LinkedIn Treasure MapI’ve been meaning to write this article for quite some time, but I’ve been holding out because it keeps evolving into bigger and better things and I wanted to wait and see what happened first. Well, the biggest thing that I could have comprehended has now happened, so I think it’s a good time to dive in.  Finding the starting point is also hard because you can keep tracing things backwards, but since my business is now LinkedIn and nothing but LinkedIn I think it makes sense to start there.

I found LinkedIn in October 2007 and became the 17,056,420th member. I was on the verge of taking an extremely large career risk and was searching online for different tools that I could use to accelerate the potential success I would have and I stumbled upon an article about LinkedIn. The risk I was looking at taking was re-entering the financial services industry (after being out for almost a decade) in my home town of Cleveland, OH (which I hadn’t lived in for 15 years), and specializing in a very niche market of charitable giving and working with nonprofit organizations. I had been a financial planner for 2 years with what was then American Express Financial Advisors (now Ameriprise) in Evansville, IN. I was one of two financial advisors who had successfully completed their first year in almost five years (from that office). After two years, my now ex-husband decided he needed to move on to another university to teach and thus ended (at least I thought) my short lived financial advisor career (every financial advisor will tell you that the first two years are H, E, double hockey sticks and that anyone who would want to do that again is crazy!).

So, with LinkedIn in my pocket, my strong networking and relationship skills, a great contract to get started with a new financial advisory firm, and my graduate education and experience in nonprofit  management, I went up to Cleveland and half moved back in with my parents (my fiance and dog were still down in Cincinnati and wouldn’t be joining me until my business was solid). It’s January 1, 2008, and the future was looking pretty good!

I was using LinkedIn and showing other advisors how to use LinkedIn. It was so different than any other marketing or advertising that we weren’t even really thinking about compliance issues and the compliance department wasn’t even aware that it was out there. Until…we had a young guy right out of college join the firm, connect with all of the senior advisors, and jump into the LinkedIn Answers section answering all of the financial questions in a super salesy way and acting like an expert (which, of course, he wasn’t) . A senior advisor sees what he’s doing (and how it’s impacting him as part of the firm) goes to the general agent, complains and the kibosh is put on LinkedIn. We have to remove all affiliation with the firm and broker-dealer. This severely limits how I’m using LinkedIn, but I continue to use it without any branding or specific identification as a financial planner.

So the stage is set and now we’re going to speed things along a bit to the chain reaction.

While still a financial planner, I attended a networking/training conference for women. I was getting a cup of coffee and turned around to find myself standing in front of Jessica Hanes. I had gone to high school with Jessica. We hadn’t been close friends, but were in the same friend circle. We rekindled and strengthened our friendship. She decided that I needed to meet Jill Banner. Jessica’s company (ServiceMaster) was a client of Jill Banner (The Fedeli Group). Jessica invited me to have lunch at The Fedeli Group to meet Jill. Jill and I became great referral partners (she handled business insurance and worker’s compensation) and ultimately a great friend.

The second half of 2008 “happened.” Markets crashed, the economy tanked, and things looked really bad as a somewhat new financial planner for the foreseeable future. Not to mention that I had found social media and was loving it, and my hands were being tied in how I needed to use LinkedIn. So I decided to take another risk and make a major change – leave financial services for the wild west of social media. It was new and hot. The only “experts” were those who learned it by doing it and this looked like it would be a heck of a lot easier to sell in this economic market than financial planning services.

In November 2010, I held my first seminar on LinkedIn for Financial Advisors. Thanks to my great friend Jill Banner, I was able to use an amazing 50+ seat auditorium that Fedeli had available at no charge. Without that, I couldn’t have done the seminar. To advertise the seminar, I only used LinkedIn. I sent it out to a lot of my network who were financial advisors, but I also used a great strategy to access financial advisors I didn’t know. Essentially, I ran a search for financial advisors in the Cleveland area that I was in groups with (I was in a lot of local Cleveland groups). Then I sent them a message telling them about this seminar. Even though I wasn’t connected to them, because I was in a group with them I was able to do that. I ended up with about 15-20 financial advisors attending, one of whom was Bob Moore, SVP of the Northeast Ohio office of Wells Fargo Advisors. I didn’t know Bob. Bob received one of the cold messages that went out to my group members. Bob signed up himself and another VP from UBS and then shared the information with several others who weren’t originally on my list. The following spring, Bob also had Wells Fargo hire me to come to their Northeast Ohio region marketing conference and train all of the Wells Fargo advisors on LinkedIn.

One of the people Bob shared the information about the first seminar with was Ned Van Riper who helps financial advisors change broker-dealers. Ned also attended. A couple months later, I decided to offer that seminar virtually in a webinar format. Now that Ned was connected to me and a past client, I shared it with him via LinkedIn and he shared it with Adam Koos who is a wealth advisor in the Columbus, OH, area. Adam attended the webinar and found it very valuable.

Adam was working with Matt Halloran who was a financial practice business coach (he helped financial advisors build stronger businesses). Adam thought that Matt’s other clients would benefit from my expertise and he suggested that Matt connect with me. Matt sent me an invitation to connect on January 27, 2011, explaining why and how he wanted to connect. I gladly accepted, responded back and we began a dialogue.

Shortly thereafter, Matt referred me to his client Gary Sullivan who is a wealth advisor in Boston, MA, and specializes in working with small business owners. Gary hired me to develop customized LinkedIn strategies and marketing plan for his firm which included his partner Karen Busanovich. Additionally, I did some custom training, profile development and their company page.

Matt ends up securing a contract with Wiley to publish “The Social Media Handbook for Financial Advisors on their Bloomberg Press label. It’s a “how to” guide covering Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn specifically for financial advisors. Knowing what a great resource I am, he decides to bring me in as his coauthor to cover the LinkedIn content. The book is scheduled to be out in July.

The book is a game changer for me and I’m looking forward to an exciting 2012. AND…it all started with a cold message via LinkedIn to a financial advisor who I didn’t know, who I happened to be in a LinkedIn group with.

So what about you? What are your success stories with LinkedIn? What wouldn’t have happened if this amazing tool hadn’t been part of your business or career marketing plan?